The public’s forests – taking the next step

It was the end of July when the Government launched a survey (with little fanfare) about plans for a new ‘management body’ which will look after England’s publicly owned woods. On 1st August the Woodland Trust received an invitation from the Forestry Commission’s Directorate to take part in the consultation as a stakeholder.

Delamere Forest, part of the public forest estate in England

Delamere Forest, part of the public forest estate in England

Juggling meetings, discussions and summer holidays means we spent August catching up with key contacts in the FC and Defra to discuss the proposals. Throughout August, one thing became really clear to us – before we put pen to paper we need to make sure we get your views on the important issues this survey raises; such as what you think the new body should and shouldn’t do?

Please take our poll today!

The survey looks at areas such as governance of the estate, money issues and what the new body needs to actually ‘do’ for our woods. We have crunched down the lengthy version of the survey to a simple poll that we would like to invite you to complete, because it will be your response that will help to shape the Woodland Trust’s answer as a stakeholder. We will also include your personal views as part of our response.

We are asking you to do this because you made Government re-think, you in your thousands put woods back on to the political agenda when it really mattered and you are the voice behind why your woods need to continue to thrive and remain free to be enjoyed. Let’s keep that focus for Government.

Our poll will close one week before the survey ends in order to enable us to include your views in our response. We will also continue to promote the Government’s survey until it closes and when you take the Woodland Trust poll, you will be invited to go to the link to the bigger survey on the Forestry Commission’s website if you want to. This is because we know many of you have thought long and hard since the sales were halted and will have the detail and forethought the Government needs to understand what’s needed for our woodland across England.

By standing together we show a mass movement that will give a clear direction. By taking a second step and sharing the detail of your thoughts, great ideas will (we hope) become a reality.

After years of debate since the sell-off plans were halted, this is a glimpse into the possible future for England’s publicly owned woods. But do you agree?

You have until September 18th to tell us what you think and make the future clear for woods and trees.

For those who want to see a little more detail into our current thinking, please read Our View.  Thanks for your support!


About Austin Brady

Director of Conservation (UK) at the Woodland Trust
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Defra, England, Forests Report, Government Affairs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to The public’s forests – taking the next step

  1. For the reason that the admin of this website is working, no doubt very quickly it will be famous, due to its quality contents.

  2. Tom Vincett says:

    Hi, I’m a bit late to this debate but if anyone is still reading this they may be interested to know that the FC trade unions have launched an epetition against the changes to the Commissions structure. They view this as a break-up of the Commission which will cause all many of problems. The petition is here:

  3. Mike says:

    We have a golden opportunity to create a network of forestry throughout the UK. I say forestry rather than playground or tree farm because forestry is the primary requirement in this country if we are to retain what little wildlife, flora and subterranean life (fungi, insects, microbes etc) is currently hanging on by its teeth. We need soft earth rather than beaten paths if flooding is to be avoided, we need to prioritise nature’s needs over human needs if we want a healthy ecosystem. The human population as well as millions of domesticated animals require billions of tons of oxygen on a daily basis, have we thought where this might be sourced in the future? The need for healthy forests has never been greater, particularly as the greatest (over paid and numerous) minds on our planet seem hell bent on bankrupting the research pot in favour of finding the god particle whilst nature campaigners are depending on charitable crumbs to maintain the wildlife systems of our dying planet. Yes we should and can enjoy our woodlands and forests but we must also prioritise the sanctity of nature over profit and human benefit.

    • Rwthless says:

      Seductive argument about pure Research over conservation work. But let’s not fight fire with petrol. If we want to preserve what ecology we can, we should be insisting on proper governance that allows the ecological argument to win hands down. Preserve the limited forestry we have, not because it is majorly significant to global ecology or atmospheric balance but because every scrap is vital to the Human Race. While a wholesale reduction would be useful (in the Human race) we are stuck with what we have and must not allow any body with a politician in it to scrape by unexamined in every detail of the legislation. We should have made our own proposals instead of being invited to modify in a minuscule way the weasel proposals drafted by the self-interested. We keep Trident “because you never know what might happen”, but even when we KNOW what will happen if we don’t keep our trees everywhere our hands are tied by people with pursed lips pontificating over what would be prudent, but terrified of offending the already rich and self interested. Such people only meddle in our affairs because there are rich pickings to be had, and the moment we stop giving them our taxes, they will be off elsewhere for richer pickings.

  4. Elen Sentier says:

    Well, I did your poll and the government’s … if you’re interested, here’s what I said
    I pretty well trashed the whole idea 😦

  5. Pingback: Groundhog day in the woods | Woodland Matters

  6. Paul Beevers says:

    Not happy at all that DEFRA retains final say on objectives for this new body. We need an equivalent of the National Trust, a body totally independent of Government. Why didn’t the Woodland Trust provide for extra comments when the questions you asked have been so narrowly defined. The WT created mistrust in itself in its original position on the public forest estate. Leaves me with the same feeling.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hi Paul, We have similar concerns, the shape of the Board for example is not what the IPF recommended, and we have every intention of challenging the plans – this is why we need our supporter’s view and backing on the areas we highlight. I’ll be seeing about adjusting the poll to allow respondents a little extra lee-way and to include an option for ‘other’ with a free text box so Q’s 2 and 3 don’t feel as limited. Our current option boxes don’t really allow for those nuances to be explored (forestry is complicated! We should allow for this in our poll as well). But please note as we’ve said, our poll is based on the proposals – it’s very important that people respond to the survey too, which Government has not really been promoting until now: (this link is tracked by the FC so they can see how many people (but not names or details) come to the survey from here) – it closes on the 25th September.

    • Rwthless says:

      We have too many bodies here. If the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission joined together and linked arms with the National Trust on common matters only of couse, it could be independent of Government. I have long wanted English Heritage and the National Trust to work together more.

      I think the CPRE and a lot of other environmental organisations should all save their pennies for the work they are doing and stop doing this eternal fundraising for duplicated effort in the same areas. Forestry and public land expertise should be geared to public interest by ensuring independence from Government. The bodies concerned would be glad to ringfence their own provinces, but would be working along the same principles.

  7. Roy Denney says:

    Your poll should have included a box for further observations

    In the section on who should be represented on any board etc I would advocate expanding one option or indeed adding another. You talk of local forest groups but that is rather vague. What is meant by it. It could be ‘friends of’ but should be wider than that. Orienteering is the woodland sport and the local club will probably stage many events in the forests at all levels and for all ages enhancing the general fitness of the population and boosting local economies by bringing people into the areas. I feel that they should be included as a National Access Organisation but that it should say Access & Sporting Organisations – I do think however that there should be local or at least regional sub boards at which county level clubs etc could have a say on local issues.

    • Clive C says:

      What is missing from the WT poll is any consideration as to what might be put in place at Forest District level where local communities and more formally organised Interest groups might have their say over what happens or what might happen in their Forests. This is a very important area which the joint FC/DEFRA working party are planning to address later this year. FC are due to run a pilot project in the East England Forest District to evaluate how District wide forums might be established and define what their remit and composition might be.

      I think many more folk are likely to come forward to contribute pratical ideas and commit to a local forum. Involvement at this level could be both challenging and rewarding. Board membership of a Public Body such as the new PFEMO should, to my mind, be the preserve of knowlegable and proven Forestry experts who between them cover the full range of multi-purpose Estate management experience.

      • Kaye Brennan says:

        Thanks Roy and Clive, you both make excellent points which I shall pass on to Hilary our Policy Director for our submission. In our view the governance proposals are not ideal: from a practical governance perspective, the tensions of having two groups involved at a high level in a single organisation could be very time consuming to manage and resolve.
        I agree that the list in Q2 doesn’t include every type of representation that might be appropriate. I will adjust this to include an option for ‘other’ with a free text box so it doesn’t feel as limited. I should clarify though that we understand it is the Forest Guardians which are intended to represent forest users (which include the local community) – this is an option on the poll as Roy says but we could be clearer what this means. Of course there are large numbers of people who value and enjoy our public forests who would not class themselves as ‘forest users’. We would anticipate the Forest Guardians role would have similarities to the current Regional Advisory Committee, which involves representation from national organisations that act (for example) for the interests of local democratic processes – e.g. the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) which exists to represent town and parish Councils – in order to can ensure the Board engages with people who might not be active in a specific user – like ‘Friends Of’ or campaigning group, as well as with those groups.
        However, as we’ve said it’s important that none of make assumptions! but ensure we speak up loud and clear in this.
        It’s important the Government hear what you think about this too: (this link is tracked by the FC so they can see how many people (but not your details) get to the survey from here). There is a section about the PFEMO, and there is also a section for your General Comments.

  8. Rowen Wilting. says:

    Clive, can a phrase like this be used safely along side ‘ Conservation,Wildlife & Woodlands’?

    >>the new public body has to become more entrepreneurial.<<<

    I find The thought of this most worrying!

    • clive c says:

      So do I. The Guardians will I believe need to keep a close watch on such developments to ensure that any new initiative is sympathetic with the environmental obligations that the new charter will place on the new PFEMO .

      My hope rests with the Guardian role which is stilll being defined ~ i hope they will be given a real remit to appraise strategy and infruence the Board plans.

      A panel that just meets three or four times a year to receive and approve reports will not to my mind have any real purpose. The panel members need to have a clearly defined role, the Chair should I believe report to Parliament rather that a Government Minister.

      There is still work in progress ~ perhaps the Charter ( once drafted) will add some clarity to this matter.

  9. Rwthless says:

    First of all, the tallest tree in England is the Douglas Fir. I’ve stood next to it in Dunster forest. A conifer. It’s been there since Queen Victoria was on the throne, around 1885, but don’t quote me.
    Yes, it’s a shallow and weaselly poll. I didn’t know all about Guardians. All I know is that the Forestry Commission has been there for a long time, and while it is thronged with snags, much of the structures of looking after forests are already in place. It should be taken over by the new body, while being run on a functional basis by existing senior staff and their departments. It would cost a dizzying amount to set up an entirely new body from scratch and their expertise could be advantaged thereby. I would bring in some open minded member of RIBA whose prime objective seems at the moment to be to clear all sites of trees before doing any work, give trees in streets priority over cable TV installations,

    It would take about 3 years to get the structure of the new body to be ready to do any work, though widening the scope and narrowing the autonomy of the Forestry Commission would be cheaper and quicker. The public could go through their charter with a fine toothed comb to change what needs changing and putting things down the way they should be.

    Car parking in a wood at least 20 miles from the nearest conurbation should be paid for, but not at central city prices. £1 even for all day is excessive for someone who has just taken the kids for 20 minutes in the play area. The need to pay for someone to check that you’ve paid is a waste of money.

    Much as I love ancient forests, some of the trees would be better sold for timber. Hardwood is more valuable though in lesser quantities. Some commercialisation is a good idea. I just don’t want my agreement to this to give carte blanche to Government to remove one ancient forest and plant a new wood a few/a lot of miles away. Yes plant a new one, No, don’t take the old one. I want to see trees in streets protected as much as trees in woods. Deciduous trees are lovely, it’s true, but the greatest joys come from conifers, fruit and nut trees and traditional beech, birch, ash, oak in a glorious medley of mixed and regional woodland. Rowans in Wales and the West, Burnham beeches, Seven New Oaks, etc etc. Some Local Authorities pretending to give room and safety to woodland, do their level best to fell every slip that dares to raise its head. Their main spending is on chainsaws and “woodland management” includes a man with a can full of luminous paint and a gang to fell and haul away every bit of greenery that spoils one selfish person’s point of view. One man I saw in the park was whingeing that a ‘crack’ willow was creaking and “might fall on his head”. That’s why they are called crack willows! But he still got it felled. Anyway, it’s those huge beeches that drop branches on your head without warning. Most people have the sense to keep away from a tree that looks as if it is going to fall.

    Yes, we do import a lot of timber and yes, we could use some of the timber we have. But agreeing to this, opens the door to any architect who wants a naked plain to build his latest brick toilet on – or the builder who decides that the protected trees on the site are just where he wants to plant his site office. Let’s have some statutory protection for trees, and not have yet another body that costs a lot and rolls over for any unscrupulous developer who asks them to. For this reason, we need to have incorruptible Board Members who can be ousted if they allow any more destruction of woodland in any given county. Old lamps for new!

  10. Andy White says:

    Ancient woodland is not there to generate capital. It is there to be lovingly tended for the spiritual fulfillment of us all. The problem is not, ‘how do we fund that? but the fact that our value system is already so darkly biased in favour of materialism that it veiws the woodland with the jaundiced eye of avarice rather than the stewardship of sacred duty. I guarentee that if the government led the way and protected ancient woodland with the same zeal that they currently cover their backsides, educated the young with the veneration of Nature, then the woods would be tended by the People without thought of recompense. We would do it out of love and recognition of our interdependence with the natural world which, loath as we are to admit it, we are a part. Its already happening, there is a veritable army of volunteers out there, moved by Albion or whatever it is that we call the deep seated need to tend this green and pleasant land who have dedicated, not just their time, but their lives to giving something back to the earth instead of all this greedy take, take, take. We have lost our way….become corrupt, and are asking all the wrong questions. Corruption is not just about taking backhanders, its about the wllful blindness to what is actually important in life, ignoring that which in fact has the power to heal our sick selves.

  11. James Brown says:

    The body must not become a corrupt organisation serving only industry: it must be balanced, truly democratic, and weighted in favour of conservation. Forestry companies with an interest in public land should be financially rewarded for the health of the forest under their control as well as the timber they extract: the better shape the forest is in, the more they receive. Further, non-native species must be banned totally: no more monoculture conifer plantations.

  12. clive c says:

    The important objective must be to continue to provide balance between the needs of people, nature and commercial forestry. The support of the triple bottom line was a key recommendation of the the Forestry Panel. They recognised that the Public Forest Estate is a multi- functional business. The forests provide timber ~ the income so derived helps the Estate remain solvent. They also provide a haven for wildlife and a recreational resource for the public to enjoy. There will be continuing conflicting needs which need to be managed ~ no one narrow body of opinion should be able to dictate their view to the exclusion of the views of others. The balance is something which in the past the Forestry Commission has striven to maintain ~ long may this objective continue in what ever organisation emerges to run the Public Forests.

    Sadly I have to say the WT poll is somewhat shallow and a little confused.

    It suggests some rather strange scenarios. Can we for example really have a Board where the “executive” is not represented, This is a Public body probably answerable and accountable to Parliament. Surely this situation demands that , at the very least, the Chief Executive and Chief Financial Officer of the Public Body are Board members.

    It also suggests that a Guardian could be a Board member. This muddies the water. The Guardians should be there to scrutenise strategic policy and apply the checks and balances to ensure that the public interests are maintained. They will be compromised as Guardians if they also act as a Board Member.

    Ask silly questions and you will get silly answers. Make of it what you will.

    The Public Consultation however is asking for views on a wider set of questions than those contained in the WT poll.

    I would urge anyone with an interest in the Future of our Public Forests to respond to the consultation It is time for the general public once again to raise their voice

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Thanks Clive for your comment – your point regarding the survey is exactly right, everyone should respond to the survey in full, because the Government must not think that all that energy was limited to the sell-off debacle but that people truly care for their forests… enough to go that extra mile and think hard about what is now proposed and respond with what they want to see happen. We’ll continue to promote the survey and as Nikki says when people take the Trust’s poll they are sent the link directly to get into the further detail as you say if they wish. There are 15 questions in total in the Government’s survey – our poll is based on the plans Government has set out and is concerned with 3 of the areas under discussion that we are particularly keen to explore with our members and supporters: the formation of the overseeing Board and governance of the proposed new PFEMO, if you agree with what its remit should be, and how the estate should be financed.
      You’re right also about the need for balance, and when you say in another comment that “We have to face up to how the Public Forest is funded” but where we’d disagree is to think that anyone should make assumptions about this – that the new body will be fully accountable and fairly represent the variety of interests, for example, unless we call for this together. We should assume nothing, respond to the poll or the survey or (ideally) both and make sure your voice is heard loud and clear.

      • clive c says:

        The problem with the Foresrty panel report was that it appeared to give a clear way forward for the running of our public forests. But they did not flesh out the Governance solution other than to recommend that the existing Forestry Commission be split up. It has now taken a year of further consultations and negotiations for the DEFRA/FC implementation team to put some flesh on the bare bones. The panel also indicated the minimum funding that needed to be provided in order to keep the Public Forest Extate financially viable. The Government has failed to match this aspiration ~ there is a funding shortfall which will increase if the Government plans to phase our direct funding over the next 10 years are followed through. The spending review cuts of 25 % and !0% are already becoming apparent in our forests. There have been significant staff reductions and relocations, facilities have been withdrawn, access charges are being increased. The shortfall in funding needs to be met if we want to maintain and develop existing public benefits There is a clear message coming down from the Treasury ~ there is no more new money. The Public Forest Estate in the future will need to become self financing.The new body is being engouraged to be more “entrepreneurial.” The biggest asset in financial terms is timber ~ the plantation forests of England, mostly conifer, provide benefits for the public, a good diverse environment for wild life and dare I mention it they (through timber sales) provide revenue. The ancient forests probably provide higher public benefits and are more diverse wildlive environments but timber revenue is far lower. We need therefore both types of forest within the Public Forest Estate if we are to sustain the entire Public Forest on a sound financial footing . Funding , Governance and public scrutiny are I believe the three key issues. We need transparancy over stragecic decision making. The panel of Guardians will be the body who apply the checks and balance scrutiny over the affairs of the PFEMO Board. There is much debate at present as to how effective their role can become. It still seems likely that FC will be split up and that the new public body that runs the Public Forest Estate will come out of the Civil Service outside of direct Ministeral control. The creation of a fully independent charitable trust seems to have fallen out of favour. A Public Corporation, accountable to Parliament is currently the favoured governance model. Enevitably this will lead to rebranding and all the costs associated with restructuring. It is not a solution I am happy with but the Forestry panel proposed this move and the Government response last January accepted this recommendation. This latest consultation phase is probably the last chance we have to influence the shape and remits of the new Public Corporations before the draft Bill is presented to Parliament.

  13. Andy White says:

    The WT has spent the last two and a half years battling the loophole that allows planners and developers to ‘have regard to’ environmental considerations whilst ‘weighing’ the needs of the economy against the interests of nature (as though we were not part of it) and then going ahead and doing whatever they pleased anyway. The WT has vowed to close this loophole, cursed the loophole, decried the way in which it has tied their hands, rendered them less potent, swallowed up fortunes in fighting legal cases because of it and yet, here we are, asking the polite and eternally ambiguous question about ‘balancing needs’ as though none of it had ever happened, as though the loophole didn’t exist. It’s scary.

    Who should run the forests? Foresters. At least the ones who know that if they kill the goose there will be no more golden eggs. Should senior staff be on the board? Should foxes be put in charge of the hen house? How can this even be suggested? It’s nepotism and ensures the concentration of power in the hands of a few who can then be picked off (and paid off) by the powers that be. Can you not see it coming? Fat cats, Christmas bonuses and party whips? Come on!

    ‘The Government wants views…’ of course they do. Rule 101 of running a pretense at democracy, let them have their say, seduce them into the stupor that they have struck a mighty blow for freedom of speech and then go ahead and do as you please.

    The government will appoint whoever they wish, because ‘the government’ will actually be one person, a minister, with a mandate for maximising profit and giving jobs to the boys taking care of last minute homework from the back of his limo between the lights at Tower bridge and Elephant and Castle. The purpose of the new body will be the same as the purpose of those they replace, to cut down the forests one by one whilst ‘balancing’ the needs of greed and contempt for the natural world they have so inflatedly risen above. One by one people. Acre by sacred acre, into the maw of mammon, this new body will do what it feels is it’s god appointed duty – to fill government coffers and rob our children blind. Rose tinted spectacles? Give it a break. Conifers are not heritage, they are a cash crop that must not be allowed to encroach on broadleaf woodland with iron resolve. Ancient woodland is the soul of this nation. Without it we will tumble lost and adrift through arid life having betrayed the sum of our descendants for forty pieces of silver.

  14. Rowen Wilting. says:

    Firstly whoever takes over our woodlands should re-instate the jobs of the redundant forest craftsmen…..who lost their jobs with civil service budget cuts.
    They have the skills & know how of the forest crafts & general forestry management.
    Without this valuable knowledge base there is no-one to pass these skills on to youngsters
    Many of these craft persons have had thirty or forty years experience in forestry, before they were dis-guarded by the current government.

    Secondly any organisation that takes control must grasp the fact conifers are a valuable commodity for sawmills, fencing materials & building & many rural jobs…..we import far too much softwood timber & with it the risk of bringing in more overseas disease, far more should be grown here.

    We would all like to see pure Broad leaved woodland…..this just is not viable in the current political climate, where self funding is the key to keeping our woodlands public…..Ask any Estate owner.
    The rose tinted spectacles must be put away & we must resort to real vision.

    I speak as an ex- forest craftsman with 40 years experience of woodland management.

    • Rowen Wilting. says:

      You dislike conifer crops as we all do…..ancient woodland generates little cash … a sacred crop! In most of our eyes.
      There will be no or little funding from Whitehall for our forests……they Will as you say, want their coffers filled……to save what little broadleaved areas we have left, the funding must come from somewhere.
      Contrary to belief …forests cost money to maintain, if the public want to use them they will have to pay to maintain the tracks, fences, signage, tree health checks & a host of other costs.
      Would anyone be happy to be charged to use our forests….I think not.

      There are few fans for conifer areas…….but, fewer still would want to pay for using our forests…………..being realistic I fail to see any other way to fund what we wish to keep.

      • clive c says:

        I agree Rowen ~ this is a time for realism. Forest management, conservation, and recreational facilities all come with a price tag and sustainable funding for the new organisations has to be found from somewhere.

        This Government has not met the aspirations for funding suggested by the Forestry panel. There is a funding gap which looks set to widen as the spending review cuts continue to bite. Forestry staff roles are changing , staffing numbers are being reduced, expertise is being lost. In my local Forest we only have one ranger with a chain saw licence ! So even clearing fallen branches from a footpath is sub contracted.

        We, the public, expect the forests to be kept just as we like it to be. Some wish it to be managed as a bio-diverse wildlife haven, others wish to use the forests for recreation and leisure. There should be room for diverse interests to be met in an Estate as large as the Public Forest Estate. Many of the services the support activities require are sourced via contracts and franchises. The new body will need to manage such contracts. Contracts come with a price tag.

        We have to face up to how the Public Forest is funded. The Government is saying that there is no new money available ~ the new public body has to become more entrepreneurial.

        There is still a real danger that the body will be forced to “sweat the assets”. The threat of non-forestry related management activity is what I fear as, as land managers, the new body will face pressures to site wind farms, extract gravel, and even sanction fracking. The funding gap needs to be found from somewhere. The Government is set on reducing the the current level of financial support that is currently provided.

        Access to our forests therefore remains very vulnerable ~ we need to engage in the consultation to air our views

  15. Nikki Williams says:

    Hello blog members – our apologies if the links do not work when you first get here – we had an error in publishing, but if you refresh your page or press F5 on your key board it should fix that.

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